Enjoyable, sinful, and jaw-dropping all at the same time. Edward D Wood Jr's first film is an extraordinary personal account of cross-dressing and a foray into the world of transsexualism, bondage and the sexually confused. Incredibly risque for the time, the whole thing is oddly frank and earnest and because of this, this kooky disaster of a movie actually has a heart, which is more than you can say for most films. It brought Bela Lugosi out of reluctant retirement for play the "puppet master", a God-like figure who presides over the action from an armchair surrounded by skulls, shrunken heads and voodoo idols and stars Ed himself in the roles of both Glen and Glenda. Also featuring Ed's then girlfriend, Dolores Fuller, who went on to become one of Elvis Presley's star songwriters. Paramount re-released the film in 1981. The world still wasn't ready.
A Walk On The Wild Side
- Glen or Glenda review by Count Otto Black
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You rated this film: 3
It was 1953, and the world's first gender reassignment operation had just been carried out, so naturally the exploitation film studios were keen to cash in on this at the time shockingly perverse topic. Therefore sleazy no-budget producer George Weiss was delighted when an enthusiastic young man called Edward D. Wood Jr. approached him with an offer to make a movie about this naughty subject on a budget so low even Weiss was impressed.
And then it all went wrong. Weiss hadn't grasped that transvestites and transsexuals aren't the same thing at all, and he'd already printed posters for a movie called "I Changed My Sex", the name under which this film was originally released, before he found out. To justify the title, an irrelevant mini-documentary by another director about a real person who does (sort of) change their sex had to be tacked on at the end. But even worse, Weiss was horrified to discover that instead of the tacky sexploitation movie he was expecting, Wood had made an utterly sincere and genuinely heartfelt plea for tolerance of a harmless quirk which in 1953 was considered to be a disgusting perversion.
Of course, it's an almost unbelievably terrible film. Wood's theory that you can make a low-budget movie look much more expensive by using plenty of stock footage of just about anything is tested to its fullest extent here, and he's magnificently wrong, especially in his Surreal representation of Glen's inner turmoil as a herd of stampeding cattle. Frail old Bela Lugosi as Fate, or possibly God (but definitely not the Devil, since he pops up later on, memorably played by "Captain DeZita" in his only movie appearance), seems to be in a different film from everybody else, but gives the Dadaist nonsense he has to declaim absolutely everything he's still got. And Glen's delirious panic attack involves some of the most random imagery you'll ever see, made more so because George Weiss, in a desperate attempt to make the film as risqué as his target audience would assume it was going to be, inserted some stock footage of his own involving scantily-clad burlesque performers who have nothing to do with anything.
But you'll never see another film quite like it! And Ed Wood, though not the best actor in the world, isn't anywhere near as bad as you'd expect, and comes across as a really nice guy. This strangely lovable celluloid train-wreck gets one star for being so entertainingly bonkers, another for trying, however ineptly, to make the world a better place, and a third for truly making me wish I could see the films Ed Wood might have made in a parallel universe where he had the unlimited backing of a very, very eccentric multimillionaire.